Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rise From The Ashes!


Photograph by Gabor Dvornik

Okay, so here's the thing...you often hear as a writer that you need to develop a 'Thick Skin'. This makes sense because in order to survive the constant 'suggestions,' criticism, and rejection that comes with this business, you need to be able to shrug off the words that hurt.

On the other hand, criticism that is constructive is something you do not want to shrug off, you want to embrace it. 

Over the years, I've participated in several critique groups and writer's circles and one thing I've learned is that everyone's knee-jerk response to criticism is to defend your work...MISTAKE.

In going on the defensive and explaining why we made our particular choices, we might miss out on some great insight into our own work.  

This can be hard though, especially if you've struggled with a particular piece and then it gets shredded by the 'poetry guy' over coffee and cookies.

Here are some tips from the book, The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell on using critique to your advantage...

When You Get Criticized:

  • Take a deep breath and DO NOTHING for about a day.  If it means screaming in the closet or binging on gummy worms then so be it...just let it sink in for 24 hours.

  • The next day you have distance...NOW consider the criticism with a cool head. Was there anything in it that totally hit home for you right away? If you find that you agreed with a comment immediately, then there may be something there.

  • On the other hand...was any of it aimed at you personally...if so, then disregard the critique AND the critic.

  • Get specific. Was the criticism aimed at your character development or your dialogue? Find out exactly what needs work. If possible, ask the critiquer directly.  Don't settle for vague answers. Was it your pacing, are your characters cliche'd or predictable or unlikeable?  The more specific the feedback, the more helpful it will be to you.

  • Finally, go about figuring out how to fix it.  If your weakness is plot, then work on it.  Writing prompts, books on technique, a class and reading your favorite author for tips on how their writing works are all easy and effective ways to improve.

  • Rise from the ashes like phoenix and write on!

I hope that all of this was helpful to you. As a member of a few critique groups, it helps to know that unless they're a jerk...most people genuinely want to help you.  Think of the critique as the gift that it is...someone took time away from their own work to help you get better. 

Until next time...Go Write!

6 comments:

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Always consider criticism. It is coming from a flawed human however. And your advice is sound : let it lie fallow for a day to gain distance from the sting.

But remember : the critic is saying how HE or SHE would write your novel. But YOU are the writer, nd your style is your own.

Then, listen to your instincts. Trust them.

Have a great Sunday, Roland

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that reviews are appearing for my book, I understand the importance of learning from them. Almost all have been positive, but I'm taking to heart the areas where it's suggested I need improvement. My next book will be even better!

Erin Kane Spock said...

Sometimes it's hard to sift through the critiques and find the honest gems. So many people write comments because they think they should comment a lot, but then they loose their credibility. I mean, seriously, when someone goes through and their purpose in life is to cross out ever 'ly' and make a note on sentences that start with 'and' or 'but,' that's not helpful. Getting through all the crud to the points where the reader didn't understand what you meant (something you do need to know) becomes tedious and I may end up missing it amongst the clutter.
Sigh.
Anyhoo, good points. This last 'hook, line, and sinker' blogfest I saw a lot of people arguing with their critics in the comments. Just say 'thank you' and either take it or leave it.

Elena Solodow said...

I took a writing class, and it was a rule that you were not allowed to speak during your crits unless it was to ask a clarifying question. But you were never able to defend. It's only natural that you'll want to rant and rave - but it's also natural that you're going to destroy every literary relationship you have as well!

Slushpile Slut said...

Awesome post Raquel! I, myself have been busy rising from the ashes!!

Eric W. Trant said...

This is why I haven't seen you in my blogroll... you haven't posted, you lazy BUM!

I use a simple rule with critiques: Opinions I put in one pile, facts in another.

For instance, a critic may say: Your scenery is too deep (I get that).

That's an opinion. People say the same about King.

Or a critic may say: You re-use the word just over and over. Your POV shifts, you head-hopped. This is a run-on.

That's a fact, and something I would consider changing, so long as it did not affect the flow.

I find that separating data-facts from opinions helps a lot. Any criticism that begins with "I like/don't like" should be immediately questioned.

- Eric